High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Gordon Pettitt (HSR 99)


1. It is based on the HS2 Y project, not just section 1 to Birmingham.

2. I have only responded to those questions "the committee are likely to pursue" where I have appropriate experience or expertise. It is limited to six pages as requested (excluding this summary).

3. There is one key argument for the HS2 Y network and that is that the existing main lines north from London are already at or near capacity. Between now and 2026 when the first stage is open, a small amount of extra capacity can be added by the lengthening trains, improvement to signalling headways, and construction of more grade separated junctions. Beyond that date new capacity is needed and the best way of providing that is to build a new line that provides a more efficient means of moving longer distance passengers and at the same time releases capacity on the existing routes which can then be used to provide capacity for improved urban, inter-urban, cross country services and freight. This enables the capacity on HS2 and existing lines to be to be increased in total and optimised in a way that reduces operating costs across both networks.

4. It is essential to take into account that the Y network when complete will enable long distance passengers from Euston, St Pancras and Kings Cross to the North to use the new line and benefit from a 40% improvement in journey times (there will be increased benefit at weekends as all maintenance on the new line is undertaken at night). As a result the new railway will be more attractive to a wider range of passengers who would otherwise choose to drive or travel by air. The very large investment already made and planned in London, the South East and Scotland together with that already planned for Birmingham, Manchester (Hub) and Leeds will increase accessibility to HS2 and provide for the fist time a realistic rail alternative to the M25.

5. The main alternative to HS2 is to endeavour to provide additional capacity on the three existing routes north. I provide detailed evidence of the serious disadvantages of this approach. In particular I point to recent experience with the upgrading of the West Coast main line that took ten years to complete and cost £9 billion.

To increase the capacity of this route further, taking into account of the need to increase capacity, for local as well as long distance traffic, will mean additional tracks on the approaches to Birmingham and Manchester and provision of more terminal capacity in those cities. The situation on the East Coast route is worse, as only 50% of that route has more than two tracks between London and Leeds.. Disruption and delay to passengers will be worse than that experienced over the West coast main line for 10 years.

6. I know of no country in the world with the density and mix of traffic on our three main lines north that has decided that its passengers should suffer the cost and disruption of converting existing infrastructure, (already operating at or near capacity) in preference to building a new line. To pretend that the long term rail capacity problems north from London will be solved by tweaking the existing network would be akin to adjusting the deckchairs on the Titanic.

1.  What are the main arguments either for or against HSR?

1.1 My evidence is submitted on the basis that the HSR programme is for implementation of the "HS2 Y Project" as a whole, due for completion in 2032­33 rather than on the first stage to Birmingham due for completion in 2026. It takes into account that there has been a 70% increase in passenger journeys and 46% increase in freight tonne kilometres over the past 15 years and a 14% increase in population is forecast between 2001 and 2021.

1.2 to cater for this growth there has already been substantial investment in infrastructure, particularly in London, the South-East and Scotland. Further major projects in these areas have been authorised and are due for completion before 2020. Plans are now advanced for major rail enhancement schemes around Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. These schemes will transform railways in those areas over the next 20 years and will further increase demand for travel between these cities as well as to and from London.

1.3 The main argument for HS2 is that additional infrastructure capacity is needed to meet increased demand for long distance rail travel on a north to south axis between all the major cities in Scotland, North of England / Midlands and London. Existing routes between Euston, St. Pancras, Kings Cross and the north are already at or near capacity. These mixed traffic railways (ie used by fast, semi fast and stopping passenger trains as well as freight) have experienced unprecedented increases in business in all these markets, each of which require trains with differing characteristics and stopping patterns. This has already led to increasing conflicts between operators, local authorities and NetworkRail over the use of capacity, not least on the approach to the northern cities which unlike the approaches to London, still have limited access over two tracks for main line and local services and a shortage of terminal capacity following closures in the 1960's (for background to this see my April Modern railways Article).

1.4 Main line services also suffer. On the East Coast Main line increased business has resulted in the need for more stops at intermediate stations which uses more capacity. This and additional trains on both the main line and suburban networks has resulted in the average journey time of the limited stop long distance trains between London and Newcastle being extended by 10 to 15 minutes compared with the schedules of 1992. This problem which has also affected East Anglia and Great Western lines will get worse on all the routes north, unless there is a substantial increase in capacity.

1.5 The best economic and operational solution to this problem is to divert all the long distance traffic from each of the main lines north from London on to a new railway as proposed for HS2. This will release significant capacity on the existing lines to cater for the growth of the suburban, inter-urban, cross country and freight markets. In this way the capacity of the High Speed and Classic lines can both be optimised whilst allowing growth in all sectors and at the same time minimising the costs of operation on both systems.

1.6 HS2 will be available 16/18 hours a day, seven days a week with maintenance done at night. The use of modern trains and infrastructure will bring about a step change in reliability compared with today's standards of main line punctuality. On HS1 delay due to infrastructure problems is 3-4 seconds per train.

1.7 Journey times on the HS2 network will be 40-45% shorter than now and business will of course increase. But what is less known is that investment in rolling stock will, due to the shorter journey times be approx. 50% less than for a similar frequency of service on classic lines. Similarly staff and maintenance costs will also be lower.

1.8 On completion of the Y network, 400 meter trains with a seating capacity 50% greater than an 11 car Pendolino will be used. In the longer term it will be possible to increase capacity further by the use of double deck trains.

3.  Business case

3.2  "What would be the pros and cons of resolving the capacity issues in other ways - for example by upgrading the West Coast Main Line or building a new conventional line"

3.2.1 The HS2 Y Project will provide the capacity needed to meet future passenger demand on the East Coast and Midland Main Lines as well as the West Coast Main Line. Experience shows that this is not simply achieved by upgrading existing routes. The key issues are these: Upgrading works on all three routes to the north to meet the capacity demands beyond 2020, will be more extensive, effect more trains and take longer than those recently undertaken on the WCML The work will be taking place on infrastructure already 150 years old where a significant number of bridges, and possibly viaducts and tunnels will be in need of reconstruction during this time. To undertake such work at the same time as undertaking major works to increase extra capacity would be a logistical nightmare with considerable risks and costs attached.

3.2.2 At the end of upgrading work, the capacity added to the classic network will of course be considerably less than if the HS2 network had been built. If it had the capacity of both networks could have been optimised to meet the specific requirements of the individual markets and at the same time reduce the operational costs of those markets.

3.2.3 The areas of land required for grade separated junctions and widening of existing routes will be considerable. All these sites will require individual Transport and Works Act orders (at least 8 on the East Coast route between London and Leeds alone) which means that total route capacity will always be uncertain until the last order is in place. Even if land was available alongside existing tracks on all three routes the work would take longer, and involve very serious disruption to line-side residents and businesses, which are likely to be on a larger scale than now proposed for the HS2 Y which is being routed to minimise the effect on people, businesses and the environment.

3.2.4 At the conclusion of the works the journey times for long distance passengers will be similar to today with little or no change to the already slow and tedious journeys over the last 20/30 miles between the main lines and the terminals of the northern cities.

3.2.5 Chris Green who was Chief Executive of Virgin Trains at the time of the West Coast upgrade told me recently "This upgrading attempted to keep the WCML open on weekdays, but proved arguably more disruptive as it dragged on for 10 years with endless weekend closures and unreliable weekday services. Mainline travel fell as passengers diverted to motorways and airlines. The domestic airlines achieved a 40% share of the London - Manchester (non car) market in this period - and this has only now fallen back to a 20%. It became very clear that it was both more expensive and more complex to upgrade capacity on an existing railway than it was to build HS1 on a brand new site. Working next to an operational WCML brought serious safety constraints. In the meantime the railway was very unreliable: tight engineering schedules often overran to delay morning services; newly installed equipment proved unreliable and the entire route was actually closed at Rugby for two days following a badly planned Christmas close down. But it has barely addressed the core weakness - that parts of the existing nineteenth century route alignment are fundamentally unfit for modern high speed passenger trains. A £9 billion upgrade has effectively raised running speeds by 15mph (from 110mph to 125mph) over the majority of the route but even this required the procurement of a bespoke fleet of tilting trains.

The same £9 billion spend on a new railway could have funded and delivered the first 100 miles of a new 215 mph route with negligible impact on existing passengers".

3.2.6 The problem we now face in the UK with increased traffic levels on mixed traffic lines is similar to those faced by most railways with advanced economies. The HS2 solution was first used in Japan in 1964 with the building of a new line to provide capacity for long distance trains between Tokyo to Osaka. Since then similar solutions, to divert long distance traffic from mixed traffic railways, have been adopted by 14 countries world wide.

I know of no country in the world with the density and mix of traffic on our three main lines north that has decided to suffer the cost and disruption of converting existing infrastructure, which is already operating at or near capacity, in preference to building a new line.

3.3  What would be the pros and cons of alternative means of managing demand? For rail travel for example by price?

3.3.1 This question is complex when related to mixed traffic routes, that are at or near capacity. In particular which section of the market should have demand reduced by pricing and who will take such decisions and on what basis? Will the decisions change market share to the point where additional road or airport capacity is needed and how are these issues to be linked to the governments objectives linked to road congestion and climate change ?

3.3.2 HS2 will provide a step change in capacity which will avoid the need to manage through pricing or overcrowding, but yield management (which is also used by the airlines to manage capacity) will still be needed to encourage use of off peak services and to take the pressure off peak trains. Pricing elasticity can encourage small changes in travel demand but increasing fares, on its own, cannot deal with the 56% increase in passenger kilometres on Britain's railways between 1996 and 2010, and the 61% growth in rail demand forecast by HS2 over the next 32 years, with a doubling of trips in the West Midlands to London corridor. Only additional capacity can do that unless, like the road system, we are prepared to see rail travel restricted by chronic overcrowding.

3.4  What lessons should the Government learn from other major transport projects to ensure that any new high speed lines are built on time and to budget?

3.4.1 The first and most important step is to ensure complete separation of client and contractor roles. The second is to employ project management with international experience and a proven track record of managing major projects - then add incentives to reduce costs and complete on time The project manager must be selected at an early stage and work with the client in ensuring that the project including costs is defined in detail prior to tendering. Finally the client has to ensure that no changes to the plan are permitted. The UK track record with major infrastructure projects has improved in recent years. HS1 and the Olympic project are examples of international best practice which should give confidence that HS2 can be completed on time and to budget.

4.  The Strategic Route

4.1  The proposed route to the west Midlands has stations at Euston, Old Oak Common, Birmingham International and Birmingham New Street. Are these the best possible locations? What criteria should be used to assess the case for more (or fewer) intermediate stations?

4.1.1 The stations proposed are the most appropriate for a new railway that is planned to cater exclusively for long distance traffic diverted from the mixed traffic routes between Euston, St Pancras, Kings Cross and the Midlands/ North.

4.1.2 The proposed stations at Euston and Old Oak Common in London give the best possible access to the new railway through the provision of high quality connections to and from the major destinations within London such as the West End, the City, Docklands and Heathrow. The completion of Crossrail in 2017 and of Thameslink in 2018 will have a profound impact on the market for rail travel between the north and south of the country when combined with completion of the HS2 Y project. The network effect of all these new lines with their superb connectivity will provide journey opportunities that are almost impossible to assess today. Rail will provide for the first time a realistic alternative to the M25.

4.1.3 The plans for Euston include an improved underground concourse and a direct link to Euston Square station. Access to HS2 could be further improved with a covered walkway or travelator link between Euston and Kings Cross. The distance between the two stations is no greater than between terminals at Heathrow or Gatwick and a further 82 stations on Thameslink and HS1 Kent routes would be linked to HS2 with a single change of train

4.1.4 The interchange at Old Oak will add 37 stations from Maidenhead, Slough and Heathrow in the west, through the West End and the City, to Stratford, Romford and Shenfield in the east.

4.1.5 The proposed stations at Birmingham International and Curzon Street must like Euston and Old Oak be seen together as maximising access to the new railway. It is impossible to increase the track capacity on the approaches to or increase the number of platforms in New Street. It will therefore be essential to provide pedestrian/travelator links between Curzon Street, Moor Street and New Street. Particularly for longer distance passengers from the South and South West who will (on present plans) have no through trains onto the Y network for long distance journeys north of Birmingham.

4.1.6 There would appear to be no scope for any additional intermediate stations between Old Oak Common and Birmingham International - a distance of circa 100 miles. My recommendation for the criteria would be: That any additional stop generates sufficient income from long distance traffic to justify the loss of capacity on the route as a whole and particularly in peak periods (one stop can destroy two following paths with a loss of 1,000+ seats).

4.1.7 The top priority for stations on the HS2 Y network north of Birmingham are Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds. The viability of the proposed station for East Midlands should depend on the availability of a suitable site that can deliver effective rail and road connections to Derby and Nottingham. Unless the connections are very good it is possible that existing services may be more competitive, in which case the capacity on the Y network could be better utilised.

4.2  Which cities should be served by an eventual high speed network? Is the proposed Y configuration the right choice?

4.2.1 I have no doubt that the proposed Y is indeed the right choice. In the longer term extensions to York Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow are likely to become part of the HSR network. Passive provision must be made in plans for the line to be extended to those cities. Journey times from London to Edinburgh and Glasgow will come down to round 2 hours 45 minutes. If the latter are linked to the improved journey times planned in Scotland, through journeys from London, Birmingham and Manchester to Inverness and Aberdeen become viable by rail.

4.3  Is the Government correct to build the network in stages, moving from London northwards?

4.3.1 The government is right to plan the building of HS2 from the London end but consideration should be given to opening the section from Old Oak Common to Birmingham International first in order that this section can be used for testing as soon as possible and bring forward the opening date for revenue earning traffic. Consideration should also be given to constructing those sections of HS2 around Birmingham and northwards which interface with other major rail or road projects under construction at the same time. In this way it is possible to minimise the construction costs of both. This worked very well on HS1 where the works interfaced with the widening of the A2 in the Southfleet area.

4.4  The Government proposes a link to HS1 as part of Phase 1 but a direct link to Heathrow only as part of Phase. Are those the right decisions?

4.4.1 The proposed links to HS1 and Heathrow are both strategic links of national importance but the availability of finance is key to the timescale for the building of both. Building the HS1 link will probably release EEC funds or competitive loans for HS2 but Heathrow does have serious competition from Paris Charles De Gaulle, Frankfurt and Amsterdam Schipol airports, all of which have stations on high speed lines. Rather than delay construction of the Heathrow link to Phase 2 it would surely be better to leave open the possibility of earlier opening if significant funds can be made available from potential partners such as BAA.

5.  Economic Rebalancing and Equity

5.2  To what extent should the shape of the network be influenced by the desirability of supporting local and regional regeneration?

5.2.1 The cities served by the HS2 Y Project, and particularly Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield all have significant local rail networks. These support the local and regional economy, and growth in levels of rail commuting have generally been higher than the national average over the last 15 years, as the city centres have been regenerated. HS2 provides the additional capacity that enables planners to optimise use of capacity on both the classic and high speed lines and, in effect, to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. HS2 for example would both add to, and benefit from, the Manchester Hub proposals. Without it, it is hard to see how local services could be improved in the Crewe - Manchester corridor, for example. HS2 could also release the extra capacity to allow a better balance between the needs of long distance and local passengers in the congested Coventry to Birmingham corridor.

6.  Impact

6.3  What would be the impact on freight services on the classic network?

6.3.1 The diversion of many long distance trains will release additional paths for freight, particularly on the main line routes.

6.4  How much disruption wills there be to services on the classic network during construction, particularly during the rebuilding of Euston?

6.4.1 A key advantage of building new capacity is that the impact is limited to those locations which interface with the classic network. Disruption is normally limited to weekend closures in order to join the old and new routes together. In the case of HS2 the number of such locations is similar to HS1 which included the rebuilding of the throat area on the approach to St/ Pancras and diversion of the Thameslink route below the station.

6.4.2 The work to be undertaken at Euston is substantial but the plan to have 14 platforms available for use at all times will minimise the effect. The disruption to passengers will be minor compared with the years of disruption and cancellation of trains that passengers throughout the route suffered during the 10 years of WCML modernisation.

15 May 2011

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 8 November 2011